Some things about people, I'll probably never find online, no matter how hard I look.. Maybe a thing's too personal to just plop down to an unknown audience, or it's just not something that one thinks would be immediately interesting to readers. But I've got to say, asking Howard Dyck my first question, “when and where were you born” led to an answer that I found, quite frankly, really awesome. He told me the story of a man, who at age 105, became the oldest person ever to become an Order of Canada Member, Mr Cornelius Wiebe, who passed away July 12th, 1999. Mr. Wiebe was known throughout his province as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba but more so as a doctor who over the course of 53 years delivered over 6000 babies, including Howard Dyck, and even the son of Howard. I find that humorous, and amazing. Imagine, being indicted into the Order of Canada only one year after the man who delivered you as a newborn baby was. I guess you could say Howard has had an interesting life from the start. These two men, at this point, are to this day the only “Winklerites” to become Order of Canada Members.
His investment to the Order of Canada was a complete surprise. It came around the time he was working as a radio host on CBC Radio for the shows Choral Concert and Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. Howard was told that Rideau Hall, the House of the Governor General of Canada, had called earlier that day for him. Adrienne Clarkson had just recently become the 26th Governor General of Canada and as always, Howard had applied to the office to give her the distinction of Honorary Patron of the Kitchener-Waterloo Philharmonic Choir, so he assumed that this was them calling him back to say that they had approved. A cut and dry procedure by now for Howard. As he was leaving the office for the night, he decided to call them. They were happy he did, as they thought “he didn't want the Order of Canada by that point”. He was thoroughly confused, and asked what they meant. Apparently, there was a little bit of a communication error. A letter was mailed to him by the office a few weeks earlier, informing him of his investment. But, it was sent to his former address. Howard almost missed his distinction from a simply mail slip-up. Needless to say, he was ecstatic when told, and right away told the people he could (immediate family only). His wife was informed, his children informed, and of course his mother. When the news became public to the rest of Canada, Howard was on a concert tour in Salzburg, Austria. Those with him and himself had quite the party to celebrate, but he told me (to my laughter) that it was the Order of Canada after party that apparently is the fun one, telling me “if you become an Order of Canada Member Cody, don't miss the party”. But how did he get to the distinction? It all started on his family farm, November 1942, when he was born.
Howard was born in a Mennonite community by the small town of Winkler, Manitoba. The distinction of being from a Mennonite community would be that music was brought into the world of Howard from a very young age. As far back as he can remember, singing and music were important in the community and to his family. He can recall singing in the church choir, being in a barbershop quartet in high school, and learning the piano and violin there as well. These developed into playing violin in the high school orchestra and being the orchestral piano player. From his few times conducting though, he knew it was what he wanted to do, so after his undergraduate degrees in Canada for Liberal Arts and Music he went to some of the best places to learn how to conduct like the best of them, therefore, Germany. Here he learned choral, orchestral and opera conducting and all the separate skill sets for each.
The thing with keeping these condensed is, there are times when I have to skip ahead a fair bit in years. Previously, I had mentioned how work on CBC and with the Kitchener-Waterloo Philharmonic led to the Order of Canada. Some of the things he enjoyed the most with this group was the Good Friday performance that Howard annually conducted until just recently with them. The mood of the performance gives Howard feelings that he can't explain, but it sticks out to him regardless. It was some work he did a few years after the Order of Canada Membership though that I found personally to show his character the most. This was he work with what he named Consort Caritatis. An example, in my opinion, of how context can make a performance so different. Consort Caritatis means, when translated in the most simple way by Howard for myself, is “charity concert”, which is really what it is. The idea was formed in 1994, the idea of using all the amazing voices and musicians in Canada for charity. Together with colleagues, a group was formed and recordings made. In the first year they ended up selling over 20000 recordings of their work (Handel's Messiah), which is considered a huge number in the fields of classical music. The first year the money went to the Mennonite Central Committee Charity and Habitat for Humanity. From there they made money for such organizations as the International Campaign to End the Use of Land Mines and the AIDS Project in Africa. All the money went to charity, it was proven to be a very successful idea, and has continued ever since. Over a quarter of a million dollars has been raised in the 19 years since it was formed.
One moment struck me as the highlight of the organization. It was a day of euphoria for many in North America, Boxing Day sales and discounts abound, December 26th, 2004. Across the world, a tsunami from the Indian Ocean would strike the nations of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, killing an estimated 280000 people. Right away, Howard knew Consort Caritatis had to help. He approached the members of the board for Consort, the Board of Directors for the Centre and The Square and anyone else he could. They all agreed to a show where everything from performers time to newspaper advertisements would be donated, the show would be free, in the hopes of raising as much money as possible for tsunami aid. An arrangement was made, and a few weeks later a performance conducted. The idea of helping these countries reached a level of success that Howard never expected. The show raised $75000, but that wouldn't be the grand total from the event. The government enacted a policy saying that when certain respectable organizations donated for relief, the Canadian government would match it, so in total, the show raised a total of $150000. In one night, from one idea. One that still makes Howard proud to have been a part of to this day.
I've never used the term before, but Howard Dyck is nothing but a gentleman and a scholar in my eyes. He gave chances to some musicians when they were starting out when others didn't. These students would soon become household names to certain crowds, including Ben Heppner who powerfully sang the Olympic Hymn at the 2010 games and Measha Brueggergosman who I first saw as a judge for Canada's Got Talent, but now have heard beautifully sing online.
Finishing this article up, I asked Howard how China was treating him and his wife. He told me how he's loving it, and how he's “up to his eyeballs in Chinese music he's never encountered before! It's all very exciting and keeping (him) busy!”. From part of this conversation, I had the pleasure to learn that the ties between Howard and I were not over, and we would be meeting again relatively soon, this time, to do with my hometown as opposed to his. With that, anyone reading this from small town Ingersoll, Ontario, consider this story a bit of a teaser into the insights of an extraordinary man.